According to the United States Department of Labor, “Employers MUST provide their employees with a workplace that does not have serious hazards and follow all OSHA safety and health standards.”
When so clearly stated, there is not much room for discussion, disagreement, or denial of employer responsibility.
Why Employers Need to Know Their Workplace Safety Responsibilities
It is fairly obvious why employers should concern themselves with these obligations. Many ramifications can occur from their negligence, including:
- Legal ramifications such as fines, penalties, and lawsuits
- Financial ramifications that can add up to millions of dollars and can be crippling to businesses that do not take their responsibilities towards employees seriously
- Wasted work time and productivity because of injuries that calculates into the billions of dollars
Employers unaware of their responsibilities can experience major disturbances, penalties, and even imprisonment in some cases. Below, we highlight the specific responsibilities that employers have towards providing and maintaining a safe work environment for their employees, ensuring workplace safety for their employees and coverage for themselves.
Not only is workplace safety a practical and considerate practice for all employers; in most instances it is required by law. For example, employers covered by OSHA are required to have the Job Safety & Health poster prominently displayed somewhere in clear view so all employees can see it. These posters are free from OSHA and can be obtained by contacting OSHA directly via their website or telephone number, or by downloading a copy here.
Safety Requirement Basics
Below is a brief summary of OSHA’s standard practices that are legally required to be upheld by all employers. According to OSHA, employers are obligated to:
- Ensure that their work environment complies with regular safety standards and regulations, confirming that all areas are free from safety hazards.
- Perform periodic investigations to see that the workplace is compliant with these regulations. This also includes running frequent checks on all equipment used within the workplace.
- Clearly label any hazardous materials, equipment, or areas to alert employees of the potential risk.
- Make it a point of training, educating, and updating employees of previous, current, and new safety policies, and to enforce these policies rigorously.
- Provide education in a language and vernacular that is easily understood by every employee.
- Facilitate medical examinations and training if the need arises (as per OSHA regulations).
- Hang the poster discussed above.
- Present workplace fatalities and OSHA-required injuries within eight hours of the incident to their local OSHA branch.
- Document any and all workplace injuries and illnesses, assuming the business meets OSHA requirements for this guideline, and provide access to such documentation to current and previous employees upon request.
- Provide anonymity and protection for employees who communicate or report workplace hazards.
- Prominently display any citations earned within the area of violation. Such citations must be kept up for a minimum of three days and for as long as the violation has not been corrected.
These regulations are even more stringent when applying them to specific industries or organizations that deal primarily with hazardous materials or dangerous tasks on a frequent basis. Training, awareness, and communication must be even more rigorous in these areas. Employers should also bear in mind that guidelines differ from one state to the next, so they should keep abreast of the current regulations and requirements that are specific to their current location.
Ways to Avoid Safety Responsibility Negligence
While the regulations are quite strict for employers, there are several means for avoiding hazardous workplaces. Some proven methods include:
- Providing training
Employers who provide workers with in-depth training and education that include possible on-job risks and hazards significantly reduce the likelihood of injuries or complaints being filed. Stay aware of changes in procedures, technologies, and regulations, and conduct periodic refresher courses for employees. Education also includes informing employees of their rights as a worker and in the case of a work-related injury.
- Being aware of the issues and work environment
Simply paying a little more attention to the workspace can also reduce hazards to employees. Properly labeling materials, equipment, or areas, instituting color-coding systems, prominently marking emergency exits, and testing/assessing the workplace periodically will go a long way towards providing a safe and reliable work environment.
- Keeping impeccable records
Record-keeping is imperative to stay afloat in the sea of legalities that follow many workers’ comp filings. This includes medical records, complaints filed and courses of action taken in response, procedures followed, safety program literature handed out, and reports filed to OSHA after incidents.
- Promoting a culture of safety
Unless upper management takes safety seriously, lower-level employees will not view these major issues with any consequence at all. Safety must be well-defined, communicated pleasantly but firmly and frequently, and enforced unwaveringly. Communicate verbally, in written form, and through actions the organization’s attitude towards safety. Promote proper safety adherence through positive reinforcement such as promotions, awards, and other benefits to compliant employers.
Conscientious employers will also periodically run medical screenings to test and assess the general health of all staff members.
More than 13 people die each day while performing daily on-the job tasks. Avoid unnecessary injuries and unpleasant ramifications of hazardous work environments by enforcing a regular safety program within your organization and by complying with these basic OSHA regulations.